People really seem to think I have any idea what I’m talking about.
Today I was at work in the Rowan University Writing Center, where I work as a writing tutor. One of the other tutors was with a student who needed help with a cover letter for his resume. The tutor was offering advice on how to clean up the grammar and keep the cover letter focused, to make sure that it says what it needs to in a quick, clear, concise manner. The idea is to remember that whoever is reading the cover letter has read dozens if not hundreds of others like it, so you want to get what you need to say out quick before you lose their interest and they move on to the next one.
At one point, the other tutor asked the other tutors (including me) for clarification on some point he was making. My honest response was, “I have no idea how to write a cover letter.”
This is true. It is also completely false.
It’s true that I wrote a book. Though that certainly doesn’t make me qualified to write something like a one page cover letter. In fact, most authors I know tend to struggle with cover letters when they are pitching their books to agents. A cover letter is a completely different type of monster than a novel. It’s like writing in a different genre. You don’t use any of the flowery prose that might make a novel more beautiful, you don’t have hundreds of pages to work with, and you don’t get to fictionalize anything you want. Sure, you can be creative in your presentation, but a cover letter is ultimately about making a pitch, hooking someone’s interest, and getting them to give you a chance. This applies equally whether it’s a cover letter for an agent who you want to give your novel a chance, or a cover letter for your resume for an employer you want to give you a chance.
Sure, I’ve written cover letters before. I wrote one to get my current job, and I’m sure to have to write another one soon when I need to get a new job at the end of the school year. I’ve read an entire book on how to write effective cover letters. I’ve taken classes at Rowan that included how to write a cover letter as part of the program. Theoretically, I should know how to write an effective cover letter.
But really, I’m just making it all up as I go along.
I do this with a lot of things. Some of my Rowan classmates complain that I’m “so far ahead” in our graduate thesis work, because I wrote mine during NaNoWriMo last year. But I feel like I’m behind some of them since they already have more established careers than I do, or at least know what kind of jobs they plan to pursue after graduation. They act like my ability to write a lot of words in a short period of time is an enviable skill, when I am more worried about the focus and dedication it takes to turn those words into a completed product. They tell me I’ll have an “easy semester” because I’m done the first draft of my thesis, when in truth I have two novels I need to revise this spring. Usually, I just keep my mouth shut because I’m not sure how to say “I’ve got a lot more work to do than you realize” without it sounding rude.
Maybe there’ll come a point where things are easier and I’m not constantly feeling overwhelmed by work and to-do lists. But I doubt it. That’s how life tends to be, after all. For the time being, I’ll be content to get my next novel revised, find a full time job in the writing field, and work on paying off my student loans.
Hopefully no one figures out that I’m faking it all.
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